Where to look for houses for rent
Where to look for houses for rent
I confess that I’m 40 and I have yet to buy a house. Not that I don’t want to. Lack of funds and a vagabond lifestyle have conspired to keep us writing those rent checks, even as we raise a family.
I do look forward to buying a house someday. Partly because it just feels good. Partly because it seems like renting is not financially wise.
But not all agree that buying a house is the best investment.
Is Renting Sometimes Better than Buying?
Emily Peck of the Wall Street Journal’s Juggle column argues in Why Homeownership is a Bad Idea that “One of the lessons of the housing bust has been that a home is not a sure-thing investment. A point driven home recently by WSJ.com columnist Brett Arends, who writes that the real return on buying a home is lower than buying government bonds.”
That said, buying a house is not just a financial decision. Amidst warnings not to overspend, marketing genius Seth Godin points out in How to Buy a House:
A house is not just an investment, it’s a place to live. This is the only significant financial investment that has two functions. Things like cars and boats always go down in value, so most of the time, if you’re investing, you’re doing it in something that you don’t have to fix, water, fuel or live in.
You’re probably not going to be able to flip your house in nine months for a big profit. Maybe not even nine years. So … imagine that there is no financial investment, just a house you love. And spend accordingly.
Finally, Get Rich Slowly has a thorough article that explains ways to figure out whether renting or buying is more advantageous for you: Does Renting Make Sense?
Reasons to Rent Instead of Buy
- You don’t have a down payment, you can’t afford the mortgage installments, or you can’t qualify for a loan. (Uh, that would be me.)
- You might be moving in three years or less. (Okay, that’s me too.) These days, the amount of time you need to stay in a house for it appreciate enough to cover inflation and closing costs might be even longer.
- You are not handy, you don’t have a green thumb, and you don’t ever want to unclog a gutter. (I have admit, I love being able to call the management company when the furnace breaks, the sink drain is slow, or the dishwasher goes kaput.)
- You are new to a city and you know very little about the area. Renting can be a great way to buy time as you figure out where you really want to live. (A house is not an island. Finding the best neighborhood should be the first step in your search.) For more on this idea, see Moving? Rent First, Ask Questions Later from Get Rich Slowly.
12 Ways to Find a Really Good House to Rent
Let’s face it: if you have a family with school-age children, the stigma of living in “the apartments” is not one you want to foist on your kids if you can avoid it.
Oftentimes, it is totally possible to find a great house to rent for the same price as a garden apartment with a leasing office and cockroaches in the laundry room. Amazing, but true. You just need the resources to find these houses. Here are my best:
1. Read 14 Tips for Finding the Best Neighborhood
If you can narrow down your area of focus before looking for houses, you can really concentrate your efforts in a place where you are most likely to be happy.
2. Sabbatical Homes
If there is any kind of college or university in your city, Sabbatical Homes is an off-the-beaten-track way to find a well-loved home that is being temporarily vacated. Usually these houses belong to professors, but not necessarily.
Plus, if you want to get your house nailed down sooner rather than later, sabbatical homes are often advertised way ahead of time, since people usually plan these things in advance.
3. For Rent By Owner
While For Rent By Owner listings are not nearly as extensive as Craigslist, try this website if you want to leave no stone unturned. To get more results, search for the name of a city or town (not just a zip code).
4. Contact the Neighborhood Association
If you’ve identified a few neighborhoods that look interesting to you, contact the citizens’ association to see if they can offer any advice on finding rentals in the area. If you can’t find a civic association, try calling the township itself. Usually a Google search for the name of the village will yield an official website.
5. Drive Around and Look for RENT signs
Okay, it’s old-fashioned, but so are some landlords. Certain homeowners shy away from advertising to the public, hoping someone in the neighborhood will know someone who needs to rent a house.
6. Word of Mouth with Any and All Contacts
If you have made contacts with anyone in your future area, always mention you are looking for a rental house. It might be helpful to mention how many bedrooms you need and a price range too. Again, some homeowners do not want to rent to just anyone, and will wait for that friend of a friend — which could be you.
7. Spread the Word with Email Listserv Groups
The 21st century version of driving around neighborhoods is broadcasting online. Join an email group that is centered in your area of interest. Often neighborhoods, metro areas, schools or local parenting groups will have their own email list or electronic message board.
As I mention in 14 Tips for Finding the Best Neighborhood, search the online version of the local newspaper for articles about parenting or mom groups. Another way to find people with similar interests is to search Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, or MeetUp.
If you are having trouble finding a parenting group in your area, try joining a national group with local connections or chapters. Try Mamapedia (free), the International MOMS Club, Holistic Moms (yearly membership fee of $45, which gives you access to a national and local email loop), or Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS).
8. Craigslist & Newspapers — Housing Wanted
The “apts / housing” section of Craigslist may be your largest source of do-it-yourself rental houses out there. However don’t overlook putting out your own ad under “housing wanted.”
Try writing something like “Responsible Family Looking for 4 BR” and, in the description field, say a little something personal about yourself and why you would make a good renter. You might want to leave the price category blank to keep your options open.
Similarly, you could try the analog version: post a housing wanted ad in the local newspaper or town newsletter. There are still plenty of landlords who are not hip to the whole online thing, so you might just catch the perfect gem this way.
9. Find Realtors that Deal with Rentals
When we were looking for a house to rent in Syracuse, everyone we talked to recommended their real estate agent. Invariably this agent had helped them buy a house, but was not very interested in helping us rent one.
Even though an agent’s fee is typically one month’s rent, half of that amount often goes to the agency and another percent towards fees and other expenses. So the monetary motivation is practically nil.
To find an agent who will actually help you, contact an agency that seems to be prominent in your area of interest (check to see who is listing most of the home sales), and ask for the agent that deals with rentals. Often this person is starting out and is happy to show you around in hopes that someday you will become a future (buying) client of hers.
At the very least, the agent should put you in the system to get automatic email updates when a new house comes up for rent.
10. Do-It-Yourself Real Estate Sites
If you prefer not to work with an agent during the looking phase, real estate search engines like Realtor.com and Trulia also have rental listings.
11. Moderate Income Housing
When we were moving to the Washington, DC, area, we found a city program that set aside a certain number of rental apartments — sometimes in upscale buildings or townhouse complexes — for families with moderate incomes. Unfortunately, most of these apartments had long waiting lists, but it’s worth a try if you think you might qualify.
Try searching online for your city and the words “moderate income housing” to see if any programs exist in your area.
12. Look for Houses That Are Not Selling
How do you know? In a free real estate site like Redfin or Trulia, search for homes that have been on the market a long time or whose prices have been reduced. Another place to search is For Sale By Owner.
If you like the house, contact the agent and see if the owners would consider renting. Many homeowners have already bought another house and can’t afford a double mortgage.
Lisi George of Cincinnati, Ohio, says she found her house this way. When her husband accepted a job in her home town of Cincinnati, their house in Colorado had not sold. Their realtor suggested that they leave most of the furniture, because the home showed well with it.
Knowing they wanted to rent for a short time and eventually buy in the neighborhood she grew up in, Lisi explains:
We called the two individuals in the community that we heard rented homes and they had nothing available. We were working with a realtor in Cincinnati to start the house hunt, but she had no homes. So I got online and researched homes that had been on the market since we had left 2 1/2 years before. Unfortunately with the housing market the way it was, there were a few homes still listed.
One home was owned by some friends from Connecticut, and we knew that they had been transferred to Arizona and owned two homes. I thought, if I were in that situation, I would love to have at least some money while we waited for a buyer.
They wanted to take the home off the market for a few months, so when I called it was perfect timing. I told them that we would take care of the house, and when they put it back on the market I would be willing to show the home. They asked me for suggestions on remodeling that might help the house sell. We ended up renting for eight months.
The owners kept the electric and water bills in their name and just e-mailed me the amounts and I wrote them checks for these. They found a rental contract online and we used that signed agreement. It worked out great for both of us.
Lisi made a personal agreement with the owners, who were friends, but real estate agencies deal with rentals all the time, so the the process can easily be officialized.
Also it’s not necessary to be willing to show the house. Most owners will take the house off the market while you are renting it.
Long-Distance Tip: If you are interested in a house you found online, try checking out the neighborhood with Google Maps’ Street View .
Go to Google Maps and type in the address. If Street View is available in your area, a little man above the zoom arrow will light up yellow. Just drag him to the location you want and streets that have been photographed will light up with a blue outline. Use the arrows to walk down the street, get a 360 view, or zoom in on a certain house.
I also like Bing Maps’ Bird’s Eye View. Just type in the address, hit Aerial and then Bird’s eye for an overhead vista of the house and the neighborhood.
Can you share any tips on how to find a good rental house?